Happy Friday everyone! Mother’s Day is fast approaching, are you ready to treat your Mom? Today I wanted to take this opportunity to share a few words about my Mom-in-law Usha who was an incredible woman and one that I was so fortunate to call Mom.
A year ago today Mom-in-law passed away unexpectedly
It’s been exactly one year since Mom (mom-in-law Usha) passed away unexpectedly last March. We got a call from Kenya from my brother in law saying he was taking Mom to the hospital that she was having breathing problems, and then 10 minutes later we got a call that she passed away. Needless to say, it was a shock. We asked if this was a joke? Are you serious?
The world was in COVID lockdown (she didn’t pass away from COVID) and things were moving fast and rather chaotically after she passed. Hitesh couldn’t go to Kenya as all flights were cancelled. The funeral service in Kenya was immediate and swift because of COVID fears. The best we could do from across the world is give our support over zoom and facetime.
We held a virtual memorial service for her with friends and family from all over the world tuning in. That was the best closure we could get given the circumstances.
Hitesh asked me to say a few worlds about Mom as he introduced me as Mom’s favorite person. He said “When my Mom sees Dolly her face lights up.” I felt the same about her. She made me laugh and brought a smile to my face every time I spoke to her.
Here I would like to share the tribute I made at Mom’s memorial service. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my fond memories of Mom with you all.
A story of two women from two different worlds
To be honest, its hard to condense our three decade relationship into just a few words, but I’ll try my best to share with you OUR story – a story of two women from two different worlds – a mom in law and a daughter in law who came together and built a bond based on mutual respect and affection.
A 30-year love story
My story with Mom goes back 30 years, to when I first met Mom in Kenya when Hitesh and I got married. Back then, we didn’t have internet, email or facetime, so my first interaction with Mom was really when I got married. That was the first time I met her! I really had no idea what to expect.
My first impression of Mom
Looking back, the wedding and the festivities are all a blur, but I do remember this – What awaited me when I arrived was a vivacious, happy, excited Mother in law eager to meet her future daughter in law. Mom was full of optimisim and positive energy. These were my first impressions of Mom, and the start of what would be a long and loving relationship.
Two different cultures, two different languages
Mom and I genuinely got along great! I would joke with Hitesh that I think we get along so well because we live so far apart – me in California and she in Kenya. I would also joke that because I’m South Indian Mom assumed I knew nothing of the Western Indian Gujarati traditions, which meant she didn’t expect much from me 😉. She would often tell me “Its okay Dolly you know nothing about our traditions, YOU don’t have to do anything.”
Whether it was performing a traditional religious puja, following traditional protocols, or cooking a traditional meal – I got a free pass. When I would ask her “Mom, how do you make this food? She would respond “It’s okay, you don’t know, I’ll make it.”
I learnt over time to take advantage of this, and got away with not doing a lot of things expected of a traditional daughter-in-law 😄.
Common bond our love of beauty in the world
I actually think that because I am Tamil it helped Mom and I develop a different kind of relationship, one that was built more on common hobbies and interests. We both loved flowers, gardens, home decor, having friends and family over, AND of course Sarees! Growing up Tamil I only wore sarees for Indian events, and Mom loved that. In me, she found a saree soulmate! To us, talking about sarees was a happy time, one, that always lead to more deeper conversations.
A story behind every sari
Whenever I visited Kenya I would ask Mom “Mom, show me your sarees” and I would sit on her bed and she would take out saree after saree. She LOVED showing me her sarees!
She would explain, how this saree is from this wedding, Or how that saree she wore to so and so’s party, or Hitesh gave her this saree, how her friend gave her that saree.
I soon realized, that for Mom, sarees weren’t just a piece of clothing – to her, sarees evoked memories. To Mom, sarees told stories, and each saree spoke of life’s moments.
Every visit to India she would buy a saree for me. Anytime I was coming to Kenya she would buy a saree for me. When she visited me here in California she would bring a saree for me. She would keep up with the latest trends and would make sure whatever saree she got was the most current in style. Because of her, I now have a beautiful selection of sarees curated over 30 years.
I would jokingly tell Mom “Mom when you leave all I want are your sarees.” When we spoke the last time she mentioned how she had organized all her sarees so that when I came to Kenya I could take whatever I wanted.
I remember saying “Mom, you know I’ll come with two empty suitcases and take them all.“ And her response was “Why are you asking? You are my daughter, you can take anything you want.” I had no idea that IS exactly what I would be doing when I went to Kenya the next time.
Our love of flowers
As I mentioned, Mom also loved flowers and she knew how much I loved flowers and gardening too. She shared with me once how she liked the Tamil culture of putting flowers in our hair, and I shared with her of my days living in Chennai when my grandfather would buy flowers every evening for all the girls in our family to put in our hair.
I remember this funny story during Hitesh’s brother Amar’s wedding when Mom and I met in Rajkot, she asked me with a mischevious smile – “Do you want to put flowers in your hair?” I told her “But Mom they don’t do that here.” And she said don’t worry I found a flower shop who sells flowers to put in our hair!
I’ll never forget the excitement we had when Mom, me and my daughter Sri showed up at the wedding ceremony with white jasmine flower garlands in our hair! When Dad and Hitesh saw us, they looked at us like we were crazy! And we giggled like little girls. Thinking back it’s a hilarious moment and one that I always remember fondly.
Mom the always presentable lady of the house
For as long as I’ve known her, Mom has loved getting dressed up every single day. Picking the right saree, putting on her makeup, doing her hair, and always making sure she looked her best. That was her passion – to look great. She did it for herself, more than for anyone else. She would say, “If you look good and dress well, you’ll feel great.”
She confided in me once how she always loved getting dressed up as a little girl and her dream was to be famous. She would tell me “Dolly, you know, when I was young I wanted to be a model or a movie star. If I was born today and pretty, that’s what I would be – a famous movie star.”
Her love of all things girly
One of many childhood stories Mom shared with me was of her and her younger sister Masi growing up together in Mombasa and how despite Mom was the elder sister, Masi was the responsible one.
She shared how as a teenager she loved getting dressed in the latest styles and wearing makeup and nail polish, even though it was forbidden by her Father. She told me she would sneak out and buy the nail polish and paint her fingernails and then when she had to do chores like washing dishes she was so afraid that her nail polish would come off, that Masi would offer to do the dishes for her. And then Masi would complain “Why are you doing all these silly things like makeup and fashion.? THAT Mom never changed!
Even at the age of 83 she was giving me advice on what face lotion to wear to look younger and control wrinkles. I would laugh and tell her “Mom, even at this age you care about wrinkles?” And she would respond “You know, I look younger than 83 because I take care of myself.”.
Mom’s passion for cooking
As much as Mom loved sarees and looking great, she had that same love for cooking – that was her hobby, her passion, her life. She loved being in the kitchen cooking for her family –what made her the happiest was knowing that what she cooked was enjoyed by those closest to her – Dad, Hitesh, Amar and her grandkids Sri, Anjali, Rani and Riya. Their joy was her joy.
On one of our private moments in the kitchen she told me how back in the day she would have loved to open a restaurant and own her own business. Just last week she was telling me “I am old and my body is frail but I still enjoy going to the kitchen, even if I don’t have the strength to cook.”
From Mom-in-law to Mom
As the years went by the word Mom-in-law went out the door and just became Mom. The turning point came when my Mom passed away over 20 years ago. I’ll never forget that phone call when mom-in-law called. I remember exactly where I was sitting, in what room, and her exact words. I remember like it was yesterday.
She said “I know your Mom is gone, and I can never replace her, but from now on, think of me as your Mom.” From that moment, as far as she was concerned she became – my Mom. This new bond we forged was deep.
When Mom came to see us in California, she loved to just chat with me in private and share stories that only a Mom and daughter would share with each other. She confided her aspirations as a young woman, her regrets, her dreams, and her life accomplishments.
Just a few months ago Mom was telling me…
“I’ve had a good life, I’ve traveled the world, I’ve been to Japan, Thailand, London, and America and I’ve seen all of India. I have a loving family and six beautiful daughters, I have two sons who take are of me, and a husband who loves me. I am very happy.”
She did it her way
Mom passed away the same way she lived – on her own terms. She could have been in the hospital for a few days or even a few hours to give us all a chance to say goodbye, but instead she wanted all of us to remember her the way she lived – looking great, living life with confidence, with few regrets.
These words a good friend said to me after Mom passed away express exactly how I feel -She said “ˆDolly, you’ve lost two Moms now.” And she is right. I lost my Mom twenty years ago, and now, I’ve lost my Mom again. May you rest in peace Mom, I will always love you.
There are so many more stories I could share with you, like how Mom loved to see all of us together, laughing and chatting, how she would sit quietly with a big smile just enjoying the family scene around her.
There is a popular song by Frank Sinatra titled “My way” and I would like to end this post with lyrics from his song, they express exactly how my Mom-in-law lived her life – with few regrets.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms 💕